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VOL. 40 | NO. 42 | Friday, October 14, 2016

Better to ask for forgiveness than permission

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Twelve states have cities named Greenville: Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas. Tennessee has Greeneville.

I tied this down in 1975, breaking an unwritten rule along the way. This, when I wrote a byline article about cities named Green Something.

In addition to counting entries in a set of U.S. Post Office Zip Code directories, I did some real library research. I looked up all the cities to see how they got their names. I wrote my story in the form of a press release and sent it to my hometown newspaper in Greenville, Mississippi, which promptly ran it and gave me credit.

At the time, I was working for the University of North Carolina News Bureau. Problem was, my job title was “mailroom director.” This position included proofreading press releases written by others, to wit: pro journalists. People who wrote for a living.

I had other duties, too, such as making copies – the hard way, by mimeograph, and mailing the releases daily to newspapers around North Carolina. There also was reviewing, sorting and filing clippings. I was mail room guy.

There was no written rule that the mail room guy couldn’t write an article and send it out unilaterally. But I knew better. My supervisor was the bureau’s editor, a talented writer named Margaret Baucom. When I repeated the offense, writing a review of a UNC-based educational program and circulating it statewide, I was busted.

Politely, but firmly, Margaret informed me that I was not to be writing releases, no matter how talented I thought I was. If I wanted to freelance, that was fine, as long as I did not use the name UNC News Bureau. That, of course, made sense.

I wish I could report that my reply was, “Well played. You’re correct. Any chance that I could write a few pieces under your mentorship?” But I was not conscious enough to think of that, let alone pull it off, in those days.

I was in the final stages of an 18-month stretch between undergrad and law school. On or about August 10, 1975, I would leave Chapel Hill. August 15 would find me at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law to start what has turned into a 40-years-and-counting legal career.

I was inspired to write the Greenville piece by the man who ran the UNC News Bureau for 20 years, Alfred Guy “Pete” Ivey, also known as “Persimmon Pete.” Following a 16-year stint as a newspaperman, 1938-1954, Ivey became director of the UNC News Bureau.

In the late 1950s, stories of Ivey’s persimmon recipes became legendary. One was for persimmon bourbon brown bread. Tasty!

He was North Carolina’s self-proclaimed “patron saint of persimmonry.” Ivey died in November 1975 at the age of 62.

Mr. Ivey, as I always called him, didn’t write every week. But when he did write, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his work. He was creative, whimsical and dry-witted.

I’ll never forget a short essay he wrote in spring or early summer that year. It was about snakes or, rather, the stereotypical disdain that most human beings have for them. Owing to difficulties beyond my control, I cannot put my hands or eyes on a copy of Mr. Ivey’s snake piece right now. More on it will have to wait until at least next week.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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